When I hear phrases like “it’s not the end of the world” being applied to college admission decisions, I am generally annoyed. A rejection letter may not mark the end of the world as we know it, but it certainly can destroy an envisioned future.
Admission decisions do carry significant weight; I do believe that, like nearly any other factor, they can change the course of a life. I think that, when you receive your decision, it is okay to feel devastated or elated or anywhere in between, at least for a little while.
But, as a high school senior who has recently experienced acceptance and rejection, I have realized that it is important to feel devastated or elated for the right reasons.
Oddly enough, I began my college search a little wiser than I finished it. When I was sixteen, I discovered Oberlin College, and when I visited campus in the spring of my tenth grade year I didn’t ever want to leave. I loved Oberlin because of its rigorous creative writing program, its innovative and passionate community, and because I knew after spending one day on campus that I could be very, very, very happy there.
Of course, I applied to other colleges as well. The most competitive school on my list was Princeton University; my reasons for applying were the impressive names of its creative writing staff, its generous financial aid packages, its incredibly beautiful campus, and, of course, its Ivy League status. I was curious, more than anything, to see if I could be accepted into one of the most elite universities in the world.
As admission decision season drew closer, however, the possible acceptances and rejections from these schools took on a different meaning. It became no longer about where I would spend four years, where I would learn the most and be the happiest; a single “yes” or “no” from the most prestigious university on my list became increasingly the most significant measure of my worth.
My daydreams were no longer of living on a college campus, meeting interesting people, doing interesting things; they were of the simple and somehow cheaper pleasure of being able to wear the name of my college like a medal, inscribed with the proof of my value as a person.
The need to be accepted to Princeton—the need to be accepted, not necessarily the need to attend—became all-consuming. And it wasn’t until I was waitlisted at Princeton, and visited Oberlin for a second time as an accepted student, that I realized how silly that “need” had been. Oberlin was obviously the better fit, but I had forgotten this in my desire to feel validated by an acceptance letter.
And so I think that when you get your admission decisions, it is okay to be upset or excited or disappointed or ecstatic or pleasantly surprised or even indifferent; whatever your reaction, be sure that you are reacting to the idea of attending or not attending that college, not to the idea of the college’s name on your sweatshirt.
A college acceptance should feel like an open door, not a trophy; and a rejection should be a sign that your open door is leading to some other room, not a sign that you are any less of a person.